Just take a walk down Sydney's King Street - past the Greek delicatessen, Tongan travel agency, Fijian supermarket, Ivan's Ukranian butcher, the Turkish café, the burnt out Croatian restaurant, the American Kentucky Fried Chicken, a dozen Thai restaurants, the Lebanese felafel takeaway, and the Vietnamese hot bread shop... On the continent that was taken from the Aboriginal peoples, the o f f i c i a l catchcry is Multiculturalism. And when you call THE SWEETS OF SIN an Australian band, that's the Australia you have to envisage.
The band originally formed in 1985 in Adelaide, the City of Churches, host to the Formula One Grand Prix, bizarre murders, and the international Ade- laide Festival. Steve Z arrived in Adelaide at the age of 12, with a wave of British immigrants who were settled in planned suburbia, with it's uniform prefabricated appearance. Cut of this culturally drab, working class environment, a stint in a school brass band developed into a degree in Composition and French Horn at the Adelaide Conservatorium Of Music. Steve toured Britain with the Adelaide University Brass Ensemble and played with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, but his interest in 'modern' music led him to the more flexible world of pop', where finally he met up with Frank Mankyboddle.
Frank also was an immigrant, from Germany, but - by contrast with Steve - spent his youth divided between two countries, arriving in Australia first at the age of one, but returning to Germany for his schooling. Aged eight, he reluctantly learnt the violin, later became an enthusiastic choir boy, and then discovered the liberating effects of rock music as a drummer in the conservative confines of a north German spa, with its elderly and convalescing clientele. With family in both countries and Australia never far away, he moved again to Adelaide at the age of seventeen where his love of music and the English language finally saw him as vocalist in a number of rock bands.
THE SWEETS OF SIN began as a duo, with Steve playing French horn, tenor sax, soprano sax and flute, and with Frank on vocals, guitar and percussion, backed by pre-recorded sound. It was a long way from 'pop' music, but carried the spirit of tolerance that they sought in 'pop'. In this period the band wrote such expressionistic pieces as 'Our House' and 'Just Another Day', reflecting on the eerie emptiness of the Australian urban landscape and its social ambiguities, using a (musical) vocabulary reminiscent of theatre and the German Kabarett tradition. They also recorded the single 'Experiment With Me' which, three years later, appeared in it's original form on the band's debut album.
But the band remained untypically Australian; they therefore needed a larger audience to survive financially, and so moved to Sydney, the country's largest and most cosmopolitan city. Sydney did indeed provide more work and saw the band playing a residency at the Sandringham Hotel on King Street, and at venues like Club Kakadu, Selinas and the Hip Hop Club. King Street was also where the band lived, and their home became a recording studio for their debut album. One night at a gig, they were spotted by Bill O'Toole from Larrikin Records and they soon signed up with the company's Jarra Hill label. The album was met with critical acclaim and features the 'pop' aspects of the repertoire. But even here the timbre of theatre and Kabarett pervades the sound,without ever trading music for drama. Indeed the dramatic aspect is kept firmly in place by an exuberant music that sometimes draws heavily, if not orthodoxically, on various folkloristic and, especially, oriental traditions. The melodic approach to percussion matches the sensitivity of the arrangements which, rather than use block chords and chord progressions, tend to set up a tonal field by arpeggiating notes or using interweaving melodic lines, as was common in medieval times. Using this technique, the tonality of the music often 'floats' between major and minor. The band is also fond of the ambiguity of the diminished chord which, because of it's limited transposition (twice), can reside in many keys simultaneously. This chord is at the heart of all the 'eastern' sounding modes.
However, THE SWEETS OF SIN are as authentically 'eastern' as THE DOORS were authentically African, and their appeal to 'classical music' listeners is as strong as the 'pop' appeal of LE MYSTERE DES VOIX BULGARES. In the past, musicians and composers have consciously sought out folk music for inspiration. In the age of the 'Global Village', a band like THE SWEETS OF SIN accepts the myriad of indigenous musics as part of it's own heritage.
- by Marie Mclnerney.